Phoenix teen’s 1999 death still drives Arizona push to end celebratory gunfire
The bullet that killed Shannon Smith fell from the sky.
It struck the 14-year-old girl in the head as she walked in her backyard of her central Phoenix home in June 1999. Nobody knows who fired the shot or what direction it came from.
But like all bullets fired into the air, it had to come down somewhere.
More than 17 years later, the tragedy of Smith’s death still drives an effort to stop acts of random or celebratory gunfire.
Police across the state are taking to the streets this week, before the New Year’s holiday, to remind people that firing a gun randomly into the air could be deadly. A state law, known as “Shannon’s Law,” also makes it illegal.
“Those bullets that get fired up into the air, they do come down,” said Sgt. Vince Lewis of the Phoenix Police Department. “What we need to understand it is still going on. It is still very dangerous.”
Lewis said police agencies across metro Phoenix will pass out 20,000 flyers before New Year’s to remind people of the potential consequences of celebratory gunfire, including the legal consequences. He said the city encourages residents to report all gunfire they hear to police.
After Smith died, Arizona lawmakers passed the legislation in her name, making it a felony offense to negligently fire a weapon within a municipality.
Phoenix police say calls for “shots fired” on New Year’s Eve have gone down over the years, from 207 in 2014 to 169 in 2015 — an 18 percent decrease. Those numbers reflect calls received within one half-hour before and after midnight.
But random gunfire remains a concern in cities across the state, including Phoenix and Yuma. There were more than 19,200 calls of “shots fired” made to Phoenix in 2015 alone, according to the Police Department.
And while Phoenix police are receiving fewer complaints about celebratory shooting on the last night of the year, no one knows exactly how many stray bullets are fired each New Year’s. Just one bullet could end a life or cause serious injury or property damage.
“This is an illegal and unsafe practice that could lead to tragic consequences,” the Yuma Police Department warned in a news release. “Officers will respond, investigate and arrest anyone that is involved in this type of activity.”